Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Why I’m Not an "Anti-Racist"

Ok, so I’m being a semantic douchebag again, but I don’t like the term “anti-racist” to describe myself and I don’t think it is a good way for those who aren’t racist to describe themselves or frame the debate.

Note: 1) Take this to mean that I’m not anti-any-type-of-human. 2) This is not intended to straw man those who calls themselves “anti-racists” either, I’m just making my case and letting it speak for itself. 3) I’m aware of the controversy over whether or not “race” is an artificial construct, but I’m going to use the term anyway for ease of communication.

Every current racist is a potential former racist

There are reasons why things exist -- that includes racism. Perhaps a person was raised in a home with racism or perhaps a person had a bad experience with a “member” or “members” of a different race and then attributed what they viewed as negative characteristics to the entire group. Whatever the case may be, it is possible for them to change. To be sure, it may be near impossible to enlighten some people, but with others it won’t be so difficult. What will not make the process of enlightenment easier is by demonizing who you are trying help.

Let’s see how it might work with other things:
"You should stop supporting the Iraq War because your current support of it makes you a vile person."

"You are, have, and will continue to be a vile person until you stop supporting the War on Drugs."
The language used by “anti-racists” can commonly come off as divisive and inflammatory rather than helpful and informative. And it doesn’t appear to be a good strategy for most of the same reasons that referring to Statists as violent idiots doesn’t appear to be a good strategy. In fact, this strategy would seem to turn into enemies the only people capable of helping racists out of their prejudice. People have flaws. The goal, as seems obvious to me, should be to help them overcome those flaws, not use them as something to bludgeon everyone over the head with.

Racism is not a positive or zero sum game

People seem to go into the race issue thinking that there is only one victim involved in racism. There isn’t. The racist is making a victim of himself. The racist business owner deprives himself of paying customers. The general racist misses out on all the cultural and intellectual insight they would gain if they dumped their biases. We shouldn’t pretend like there is one side that is losing and one that is winning. Pretending as if that is the case limits the ways in which racism can be overcome. A shop owner who’s repeatedly made aware that his racist service policies hurt his bottom line would seem more likely to change his policies than one who isn’t. And by accommodating a new population of customers, the shop owner may realize that his ideologies had been ill informed. This may seem like a stupid example because, of course, discrimination results in fewer customers and any shop owner should already know that. But that misses the point and its applicability to other, less obvious situations. Explaining how someone is harming themselves as a result of an absurd bias can be very constructive.

Everyone is a “racist”

The current strain of race politics is not beneficial in any way. At times it seems as if any position taken can be boiled down to something implicitly racist. Want to ban all but menthol flavored cigarettes? Well then you must be racist. Think I’m exaggerating? I'm not. The “racist” label has become almost worthless because it is used so often to describe ideologies that have little or nothing to do with race.

As a result, it is common for cultural tendencies that may warrant criticism to be ascribed directly to race. If a group of people of a homogenous race eats babies, I’m going to remain steadfast in my position that our cultural differences are not reconcilable. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates that not everything that appears racist actually is. People who oppose "illegal" (Mexican) immigration, by and large, are not racists. In order for them to be racists, they’d also have to hold a grudge against any other legal (Mexican) immigrants. Instead, what is commonly called “racism” is actually a fear or dislike of incoming cultural norms and/or language -- which at some point may approach xenophobia. Xenophobia isn’t something innocuous either, but it usually packs a lot less political punch than “racist” (or “sexist” for that matter).

It makes people dishonest about their racism

When certain opinions and ideologies are socially frowned upon, people will not be open about holding them. This may lead to the poisoning of other ideologies as racist elements search for a new, less obvious outlet for their ideas to be heard. Or it may result in a less fertile ground for actually acknowledging problems and working to resolve them. By demonizing, we hide the problems rather than solve them.

I would certainly admit that some ideologies may be too personally repulsive to listen to and will always be near impossible to utter publicly, but it seems most advantageous that problems be addressed rather than swept under the rug.

It places certain potentially worthy topics off limits

People of different races are different. Most obviously they have different complexions or other physical characteristics and commonly associate with different cultural values. But speaking as a layperson, it certainly seems reasonable to postulate that people of different races tend toward different physical and mental aptitudes. This may very well not be the case, but asking a purely scientific question is not, on its own, indicative of racism. I don’t consider myself to be qualified in any way to discuss such things as true one way or another and so I don’t. However, others who may be qualified and are interested in the topic should be able to conduct research without being accused of racism. Would it be racist to conduct research on the connection between blacks and sickle cell anaemia? Why would it be racist to study any other differences? Studies could indeed find that the hypothesized disparities are bogus. Nevertheless, whatever is found can be useful; there’s no reason to run away from the truth (although, it should always be reasserted that the truth is an impossibly difficult thing to catch).

In sum, it’s not opposition to racism that I oppose. It’s the tendency (often based on little or no evidence) to demonize people who may be racists -- especially when that demonization comes at the expense of the goal you are trying to accomplish -- that I oppose.